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My Take: May 21st doomsday movement harms Christianity
Osvaldo Colon walks the streets of New York proselytizing with other believers that the world will end Saturday.
May 17th, 2011
03:27 PM ET

My Take: May 21st doomsday movement harms Christianity

Editor’s Note: Robert Jeffress is pastor of the 13,000-member First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas and the author of 17 books, including the forthcoming "Forget Saving America!"

By Robert Jeffress, Special to CNN

In January 1961, a few days before John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as president, he invited Billy Graham to spend a day with him in Key Biscayne, Florida. After a round of golf, Kennedy and Graham were returning to their hotel when Kennedy stopped the white Lincoln convertible he was driving by the side of the road.

“Billy, do you believe that Jesus Christ is coming back to Earth one day?” Kennedy asked.

“Yes, Mr. President, I certainly do,” the evangelist responded.

“Then why do I hear so little about it?” Kennedy wondered.

Were Kennedy alive today, he probably wouldn't be asking the same question.

During Kennedy’s lifetime, few mainline Protestant churches discussed the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Fifty years later, however, televangelists, network television programs, movies and books like the "Left Behind" series — which has sold more than 60 million copies — have succeeded in placing the return of Jesus Christ in the public consciousness.

A 2004 Newsweek poll revealed that 55 percent of Americans believe in the Rapture, the snatching away of all Christians prior to the end of the world and the return of Jesus Christ.

As a pastor who preaches often about Bible prophecy, I am grateful for the general awareness people have of the promised return of Jesus Christ.

But our culture’s newfound interest in the end times has a downside. Bible prophecy inherently attracts fanatics. As a seminary professor of mine used to say to our class, “Remember, wherever there is light, there are bugs!”

One of those fanatics is Harold Camping, the founder of the Christian broadcasting ministry Family Radio in Oakland, California. Camping has predicted that the Rapture will occur at 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 21, followed by the end of the world five months later on October 21, 2011.

Family Radio has plastered billboards across the nation with the warning “Judgment Day, May 21, The Bible Guarantees It!”

Road trip to the end of the world

Readers should note that Camping first predicted the world’s end in 1994. He says he was wrong due to a mathematical miscalculation.

Now I am going to make my own prediction which I’m (almost) willing to stake my life on: May 21 will come and go without any Rapture.

How can I be so certain of my prophecy? The Bible itself says that no one can know the date of the end of the world.

Predicting the apocalypse

In discussing His return to Earth, Jesus told His disciples, “... of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” (Matthew 24:36).

If God has not even revealed to his own son the date the world will end, I doubt he has revealed it to Harold Camping.

My hunch is that the date God ultimately has chosen is one that will not be plastered on billboards around the country.

What harm is there in an 89-year-old preacher making prognostications about the end of the world?

First, such predictions give non-Christians one more reason to discount the Bible.

For example, many secularists have dismissed the Bible because they assume that it teaches the world is only 6,000 years old. In reality, the Bible never makes such a claim about the Earth’s age. Instead, some well-intentioned Christians have misused the genealogies in the Bible to attempt to ascertain the date of creation.

Similarly, when next Saturday passes without a Rapture, some will say, “See, the Bible was wrong again,” when, in fact, it will have been Harold Camping who was wrong — again.

Second, predictions about the end of the world always lead some people to make foolish decisions. When a self-professed prophet named Edgar Whisenant predicted that the Rapture would occur in 1988, a couple I know responded by charging their Visa card to the limit with a trip to Disney World, believing the bank would be left with the bill once they had left the Magic Kingdom for God’s kingdom.

Obviously, things did not go as planned.

A look at the ways the world could end

Just as every teacher knows how unproductive and unfocused students are the week before school lets out, God knows how tempted we would be to neglect the responsibilities he has entrusted to us if we knew the date we would be raptured into heaven. That is why God refuses to show us his calendar and instead instructs us to focus on our assignment.

But the most harmful consequence of Camping’s false prediction is that it discourages people from making the necessary preparation for the real event when it actually occurs.

Remember the boy who cried wolf once too often? The villagers were so hardened to the boy’s false alarms that they were unprepared when the wolf finally arrived.

When May 21 passes and Camping’s prophecy is added to the ash heap of discredited prophecies, some will be tempted to join the chorus of cynics whom the Bible predicts will mockingly say, “Where is the promise of Christ’s coming?” (2 Peter 3:3-4).

Make no mistake about it. As Billy Graham affirmed to President Kennedy, Jesus is coming back some day. Over 1,800 verses in the Old Testament and 300 verses in the New Testament prophesy of the lord’s return.

Don’t allow the Harold Campings of the world keep you from making the necessary preparation for the end — whenever it may be.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • End times • Heaven • Opinion

soundoff (1,945 Responses)
  1. Nonimus

    I'm guessing that they can always claim the Rapture happened on May 21st, but no one made the cut.

    May 18, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • Free

      All the major scientists and athiests should hide away on that day just to see what the reaction would be.

      May 18, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • Nonimus

      @Free,
      lol. It took me a bit to figure out what you were suggesting.
      "W.T.F? All the scientists and atheists got Raptured?" : )

      May 18, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • Juraen

      Guess they don't believe their own predictions. If the end of the world is Saturday, why does their sign offer Sunday services?

      May 18, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • Rapture

      The Bible clearly states that: " No man knows the day, nor the hour that the Son of Man shall return." This is just another attempt by the devil to bring discredit, confusion and animosity toward the Church. satan is still a liar. There will be no rapture on May 21, 2012. This is a sinister plan to turn people away from Christianity.

      May 18, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • Free

      So, as long as somebody, somewhere predicts each and every day, filling the calendar, the world will never end? Hmmm ...God seems pretty easy to fool, eh?

      May 18, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • Free

      Nonimus-
      At the right time we could all jump out of our hiding places and yell "Surprise!" Then we can have cake ...

      May 18, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
  2. There'sSalt

    Wisdom comes in many forms, but the wisdom of the Word is peaceful, kind, loving, long suffering; all of which we expect from others in all areas of our lives. What is wrong with doing harm to no one, if there is no reward from God, then you will still have some peace among people. But the real problem is what most people perceive to be God and His ways,, are not from the bible, it's the doctrine of a people that thought the world was flat at one time and if you sailed too far you will fall into outterspace, and they can not count because they say Jesus died on Friday and was risen on Sunday, but the Bible quote Jesus saying He will be in the heart (grave) of the earth for 3 three days and 3 nights; how do you get that from Friday to Sunday? also you can Not find nowhere in the bible the word rapture, it do state that when He return His reward will be with Him. So we have a choice, it's all ours;we read news reports, medical reports etc.. and choose to believe them, this is the same thing, our faith do not profit God, only us, and if you don't believe, oh well.

    May 18, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  3. Knuckleheads

    II bet the guy still has a 401(k) and a checking account. What does he need those for? This guy is just like Trump...say something for the crazies, cause they will give you the money

    May 18, 2011 at 11:00 am |
  4. khodgson

    Well said! I think it goes to show how quickly rumors and misinformation can circulate around the world – bad news travels quickly these days.

    May 18, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  5. RHDK

    This type of literacy should be illegal for it is religious terrorism! It's proposterious! Only The Great Father knows the day and never revealed it to anyoneQ! Not even his own son, not Mark, not Luke, not Matthew, not Paul, not John, not Daniel, not Tim, not..... Plus, the Bible is mis-contrued in every which way possible just the way the Khoran has been and which the western worlds have been in war against "Jihad" Really? this is the "holy war" Bin Laden preached about- Do you really think he went to Heaven acouple weeks ago??!, Doubtful! I bet Jesus/Allah pimp slapped him silly! And explained to him how he took God's word and made them his own, then taught others to do harm to people that don't believe in his words and ruin their lives!
    I truley believe the Bibles are meant to give us on earth, piece of mind that helps us deal with death. Yes death! Judgement Day comes every day!, People are presented to Jesus everyday! When they die, this is their Judgement Day! Your death day is your Judgement Day! and the Bible helps people to understand if they believe in the scripture they can be at peace when it occurs that they will be let into "Heaven" or *achem* "Saved!". The human mind is constantly finding ways of disproving truth, because it lacks the attention to understand it can be just that sometimes. The mind is always looking to "solve" things and when you dissolve your life into Christianity or any other religion, the main mystery is "when Jesus is returning". It's like a treasure hunter looking for hidden treasures burried by our predecesors and that there is some mystery to find them. Harold Camping thinks he has "solved" the mystery, the return date and specific time of Jesus returning in a literal sense...He has given into his mind and fed into his disbelief that only God knows... Don't waste your time people! Love the people you love, your Judgement Day could be today, next week or in the next decade! as could mine!

    May 18, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  6. Ex-Jesus Slave

    Religion is about control of the masses. The Roman government and the Jewish Pharisees of the time created Christianity to control the unruly mobs being instigated by the real, only human Jesus Christ. In actuality, their plan was pure brilliance as in one fell swoop they killed the main leader of the unrest, then created a mythology about his divine heritage putting the Roman leaders in charge of the new religion, and after all this time, still have control. This is why the Roman empire will always be the greatest ever known...it still exists. It is called the Vatican and it controls most of the non-muslim world in some way. We will never advance as a species until we quit believing in fiction created thousands of years ago.

    May 18, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • Hilikus00

      Religion is used to control the masses, but that is certainly not what it is about. I am an atheist, but enjoy the study of religion. When you look deep in them, almost all have a core goodness. Christianity, since that seems to be what the topic is on, is a kind religion...what irritates me about it is not the religion itself. Blue laws in North Carolina for one example...made by religious people, not the religion. Jesus never said "Thou shall not buy your favorite scotch on Sunday". Religious people took control and forced their will on people...not the religion. Leaders twist religion, and use fear for control...not the religion. People make it about fear and damnation, not the religion. Show me something big, and potentially life altering...and I'll show you where a person has corrupted it for their own benefit. That doesn't mean the object itself is bad.

      The world does not need to be rid of religion...it needs to be rid of ignorance. It is much more difficult to "fool" and informed person.

      May 18, 2011 at 11:09 am |
  7. JamesJust

    Christ spoke of many things that will happen during the end times but he emphasized one particular event, deception. He repeated over and over that deception will be the number one danger for the world. We know this Camping is a false prophet but the danger is his deception and the fact that this event will drive more people away from the faith as the press loves to ridicule Christians. This actually should have been ignored but ridiculing Christians sells.

    It is amazing how ignorant people really are with regard to scripture, Judgment Day doesn't occur until after Christ's 1000 rule. The only ones that will enjoy Christ's presence will be the dead in Christ or the Martyrs, they will rise. The rest will sleep until Judgement day. GOD is going to punish the earth but NOT destroy it. What would be the point of Christ's 1000 rule if everything is destroyed and everyone is dead? Think about it...

    http://www.yahwehyeshua.com

    Don't be deceived

    May 18, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • JamesJust

      I meant to add what Isaiah said "the earth is burned up and very few men left", so they will be people left behind and they will enjoy Christ's presence as well. Revelation even declares a punishment for the nations that do not pay homage to Christ during the Feast of the Tabernacle, no rain. So there will be people here on earth. the armies, presidents, kings and national leaders involved with the beast will be destroyed..

      May 18, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  8. Litgant

    All of this false doomsday date is the work of one man: Harold Camping of Family radio. HC has predicted these doomsdays several times. Send a reporter out to see what makes him tick. The man is obviously tiched. He knows Jesus said no man knows the day or the hour. Yet he is going to prove Jesus lied? He knows the day and the hour. It is men like this fruitcake who will help deceive the world that Christianity is a joke. Harold Camping should promise to give away all his millions and all his radio stations if his rapture does not take place. Will he do it? Of course not because all of this is a joke to him. And he loves making fools out of those he deceives. shame on you Harold Camping, SHAME ON YOU!

    May 18, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  9. Guy

    The Flat-Earthers Strike again

    May 18, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  10. Jason

    "Over 1,800 verses in the Old Testament and 300 verses the New Testament prophesy of the lord’s return."

    What Bible are you reading? There's maybe 4 in total. All that stuff in Daniel and Revelation has nothing to do with the end of the world.

    May 18, 2011 at 9:52 am |
    • Dawn

      only 4 uh? you better read it again.

      May 18, 2011 at 10:20 am |
  11. Aaron

    All of the disciples belive that Jesus would come again in their lifetime, but he did not. Why? Because He wantes all of us to live a life of urgency. The end time will come for each of us and those we love- it averages about 74 years after we are born.

    May 18, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • Adelina

      Aaron, no, read II Peter chapter 3. They knew it could be thousands of years later.

      May 18, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  12. TexTeach

    Doomsdayers aren't hurting Christianity, Mr Jeffres, as much as people like you are; you stole books from the Wichita Falls public library because they were trying to teach the children of gay people that their parents might be normal, loving human beings, and you accompanied it with a media campaign that raised $1 million that same year for your church through bigoted, close-minded sermons. Doomsdayers are just a little nutty; at least they aren't shameless opportunists.

    May 18, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  13. Sardukar

    Humanity is young, we are like kids and as you know young kids have magical thinking...they believe in ghosts, goblins, unicors, real magic etc..etc..some have imaginary friends if they feel lonely. Some even fight eachother..
    Eventually we grow up and leave the nonsense behind.

    May 18, 2011 at 8:46 am |
  14. Free

    Pascal's Wager... again?
    You think that belief in God is free, but it comes at the price of having to disregard what we know is true, and that's a terrible price to pay. What you are actually saying is not just to believe in God, but to believe in a God that operates in a universe that we know doesn't exist anymore and who forbids what we know in our hearts isn't wrong without God supposedly saying it is. Being "safe rather than sorry" is a completely selfish motivation then, and I'd rather live my life unselfishly and risk the remote chance of hell than choose to accept beliefs that I can't justify in our modern society, some of which actually hurt others, just to save my butt.

    May 18, 2011 at 8:31 am |
  15. Sharon

    Nick, unfortunately, your summary line, "As the old saying goes, "I would rather be safe than sorry." is an instance of a very common fallacy known as Pascal's Wager. You should read up on it here, for example:

    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Pascal%27s_wager

    Some additional readings and understanding about basic fallacies might also help you to see that your religious beliefs aren't any different from earlier supersti-tions and god stories that humans have invented in their history. All fiction, sadly.

    May 18, 2011 at 8:17 am |
  16. Nick

    People read certain verses of the Bible and interpret them the way they want. You have to considered the entire Bible in all teachings and claims. No one know the date, but you better be ready because it could happen before you finish reading. What does one have to lose if they believe and live for God? Someone will be wrong at the end of time, either you will die and never know, or when you die in this world you will wake up in Heaven if you believe. If you don't, its going to get hot. So what do you have to lose by following God? If I am wrong and ther is no God, then when a believer dies, they die a humble caring, loving person that people admired and loved. We are all human and will all sin, its our nature. So please do not look at Christians and see only their faults, for God and Jesus will forgive all that and will take anyone that will accept them. As the old saying goes, "I would rather be safe than sorry."

    May 18, 2011 at 8:06 am |
    • Sharon

      Nick, unfortunately, your summary line, "As the old saying goes, "I would rather be safe than sorry." is an instance of a very common fallacy known as Pascal's Wager. You should read up on it here, for example:

      http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Pascal%27s_wager

      Some additional readings and understanding about basic fallacies might also help you to see that your religious beliefs aren't any different from earlier supersti-tions and god stories that humans have invented in their history. All fiction.

      May 18, 2011 at 8:18 am |
    • JohnR

      Nick, it's is a huge price to pay to burden yourself with a bunch of neolithic city-state god theology. The world is so much more glorious than you'd ever know if you let yourself be consumed by the tempest in a teapot drama between god and a friggin' talking serpent. Plus, there is no guarantee that merely believing in the christian god will win you anything in any afterlife. First, Shiva or Allah or Ahura Mazda or the Wrathful Spaghetti Monster or whoever/whatever wouldn't be impressed if you bet on the wrong horse, eh? And even if you have the right horse, what makes you think that jolly old Jehovah will put aside his wrath when he hears that your "faith" was just a matter of hedging bets? For that matter, why would any god care who believes in his/her/its existence?

      May 18, 2011 at 9:11 am |
    • Free

      Nick-
      But you're not asking people just to believe in God, are you? You're asking them to believe in a bunch of stuff attached to the God idea, some of it quite harmful, that wouldn't make any sense at all without believing in God, right? There's the hidden price written in Pascal's fine print.

      For example, I hear Christians say all the time how they wouldn't have any problem with gays if it weren't for their belief that God disapproves of them. Now the question is, what kind of person are you to throw gays under the bus just because you believe doing so will better your chances of getting into Heaven? Remember, if you're wrong, and God and Heaven don't exist, then you've intentionally hurt these people for no valid reason, right? What's more, you hurt them for the selfish reason of bettering your chances at an improbable reward. I guess that if your ego doesn't allow you to entertain the idea that you might just be wrong in this then you can die without any such worries of who you may have hurt along the way, but some of us aren't willing to step over people just to get ahead.

      May 18, 2011 at 10:04 am |
    • JOregon

      @JohnR
      I have been an Atheist, and even a New Age Reincarnationist. Today I am a Christian. I have always been happy, never had issues I find there is ZERO loss of freedom or joy as a Christian.
      I really loved my sins, none of which seemed to be harmful at the time. Probably my greatest issue with sin was the ladies. It was always mutual though, and I am confident that I could meet any with a hug. That ended, before I was a Christian, when I married. In all honesty now that I am no longer married Christianity does keep me from seeking companionship. On the flip side there is an amazing joy at being obedient to God.
      On the other hand you are Gambling there is no God. You aren't betting a few dollars or your mortgage, you are Gambling your eternal life. I didn't seek God because I wanted to be safe, it is just the result. You, on the other hand, should be afraid your whole life because there is every possibility God is real and your end could be truly horrible.
      As it says in the word – Seek Him While He Might Be Found

      May 18, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • Fester N. Scab

      Yeah, so, if I believe in the Bible that means I can go out and kill people and ask for forgiveness. I love how people exploit this to meet their ulterior motives. Christianity is the most evil religion out there. Buddhism is much better my friend.

      May 18, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • JOregon

      @Free
      Those that attack Gays have no idea what Christianity is about.
      Christians are to go into all the world a preach the Gospel (the good new about Jesus Christ). That good news is you don't have to make the payment (wages) for your sins. We are to preach that ALL Have Sinned, not pointing out individual sins.
      I wish those that like to point to individual sins would look down at their hand, they would see 3 fingers pointing right back at them.
      Besides many of those pointing have no problem with divorced people remarrying, (lots of $ to be made in weddings) even though the bible says it is Adultery.

      May 18, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • Free

      JOregon-
      Not just attack, but those who judge them as sinful just for being what they are naturally because, if God doesn't exist, then it was a stupid idea to judge them according to what an ancient book said on the subject, right?

      May 18, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  17. Reality

    What we do know:----------------------------------

    1. The Sun will burn out in 3-5 billion years so we have a time frame.

    2. Asteroids continue to whiz by us daily.

    3. One large hit and it is all over in a blast of permanent winter.

    4. There are enough nuclear weapons to do the same job.

    5. Most contemporary NT scholars do not believe in the Second Coming so apparently there is no concern about JC coming back on an asteroid or cloud of raptors/rapture.

    Bottom line: our apocalypse will start between now and 3-5 billion CE.

    May 18, 2011 at 7:54 am |
    • SR

      Most logical thing I've read on this topic. Thank you.

      May 18, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  18. Rev. Rick

    Why has man created a God that is so angry? For almost the last 3 millennia, man has been shackled to an outdated, antique, donkey-and-cart theology, worshiping a God that could care less about religion, and even less about which denomination you belong to.

    May 18, 2011 at 7:33 am |
  19. doctore0

    Christianity harms Christianity..
    We all know religions are pure nonsense

    May 18, 2011 at 3:35 am |
    • Quack

      While yours is the purest of 'em all.

      May 18, 2011 at 5:09 am |
    • Fester N. Scab

      bunch of fairy tales and control mechanisms. religion is about control.

      May 18, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • JJ in CT

      This angers me, because when May 22nd comes and goes, the taxpayers will be the ones footing the bill for the foodstamps these people who quit their jobs and gave away their possessions will be living on. Maybe the tax-exempt churches should be the ones to shelter and feed them, as they're the ones filling their heads with this end of the world nonsense.

      Hopefully this will be the first learning experience in a long line of understanding that they need to educate themselves on the real world in which they live, not some bronze age mythology.

      May 18, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  20. Adelina

    No one(among humans) knows the date of the Judgment Day. No one knows the date of his/her last day on earth. Jesus told us His followers to be always alert and live a godly life in Him for all time.

    May 18, 2011 at 3:21 am |
    • Muzi

      ANYONE who still believes in the literal return of Jesus via an infinite universe is a false prophet & a clown just like Camping. If Jesus went up – He is still on his way there; not even past our Milky Way Galaxy yet. A belief in the literal return of Jesus – is 20th century ignorance & 21st century nonsense!

      May 18, 2011 at 4:59 am |
    • Wipe0ut

      All atheist's egos bloated like space blob but their brains shrank to the size of a quark!

      May 18, 2011 at 5:07 am |
    • Sardukar

      JuJu of the Jungle, said that there will be no rapture..ha also gave coconuts around.

      May 18, 2011 at 8:40 am |
    • jefe

      @Muzi, so you're going to go with God raising Jesus up and Jesus ascending into heaven, but then limit him to sub-lightspeed travel huh? And you've got a location for heaven picked out that you know He couldn't have reached yet? too funny!

      May 18, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • Adelina

      Muzi, there are other universes God made. The size of our universe is nothing to Jesus.

      May 18, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • Free

      Wipe0ut-
      "All atheist's egos bloated like space blob but their brains shrank to the size of a quark!"
      I think you've got that reversed there, fella. Most atheists are more than willing to admit that they may be wrong, but few believers are. Have you ever considered how big an ego you need to be so sure of your beliefs?

      May 18, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • Free

      Wipe0ut-
      I forgot to add that God and Heaven are unproved, so believing they are real is purely a matter of certainty in one's own personal reasoning, right? What you have 'faith' in then is that your thinking on this subject is better than a non-believer thinking. So, it all boils down to some believers having too huge an ego to even entertain the idea that they could possibly be wrong. See what I mean?

      May 18, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • JPopNC

      To Free, "I think you've got that reversed there, fella. Most atheists are more than willing to admit that they may be wrong".

      I've yet to meet the first who would even entertain the possibility of any other evidence other than the grossly miscalculated Darwinian theory. In fact I've noticed where more often than not, they tend to lean towards making derogatory remarks and never address any specific questions posed. Don't believe me, simply scan some of the postings above and you can easily spot an aethist's post, they're generally mean and sarcastic and clear evidence what the lack of Biblical principles will "evolve" a person into.

      Jesus taught us to be loving, kind, and respectful (the whole "do unto others...." thing). Majority of the atheists seen here are usually just the opposite, so given that, which path would you prefer?

      May 18, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • NL

      JPop-
      I wouldn't judge all atheists by who post here any more than I would judge all Christians by the kind who gleeful look forward to our going to he'll. Also, even if what you said were true, it would only be an argument for believing there is a God, not that God actually exists. You can follow Jesus' teachings just as easily without, you know?

      May 18, 2011 at 11:14 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.